Social Studies Help Center
Social Studies help for American History, Economics and AP Government. There are class notes, numerous Supreme Court case summaries and information on how to write a research paper inside.

How did the assassination of Abraham Lincoln affect Reconstruction?

Interesting Facts About The Lincoln Assassination

At the end of the Civil War two very different plans for reconstructing the nation were offered. Had Lincoln lived perhaps history would have different. The assassination of Lincoln, however, left the vulnerable Andrew Johnson, a Southerner and former slave owner with no college education, President. Could he live up to Lincoln's ideals? Would he be allowed the opportunity? That is the question.

After the Civil War congress was controlled by a group called the "Radical Republicans." Lincoln was able to control them and had proposed a plan for reconstruction that looked to treating the South more like a lost brother returning home. Lincoln looked to reconstruction as a time of healing. The Radical Republicans, however, looked at reconstruction as an opportunity to teach the South a lesson and to punish them. In 1866 Congress passed the Wade-Davis Bill which called for rather draconian Reconstruction measures. Lincoln vetoed the bill but thedebate raged.

Lincoln would have been able to control the Radical Republicans, at least that is the conventional wisdom. Lincoln's death, however, left a void in leadership. The new President, Andrew Johnson, was a southerner. As you can imagine this bitter irony was not lost on the Radical Republicans who hated him even before he was President. Johnson proposed a plan similar to Lincoln's. Suffice it to say, congress was not amused. The relationship between Lincoln and Congress soured quickly.

Immediately following the Civil War, Southern states passed numerous laws restricting the rights of Blacks. They were known as the "Black codes". Mississippi, for example, barred interracial marriages. The punishment for such an act was death. Another code restricted the area in which Blacks could live. For example, Blacks could not own or rent land outside of an incorporated town. The purpose of this code was to undermine the efforts of the federal government in giving forty acres of land to former slaves. Many large plantations in the South were confiscated or abandoned. Much of this land was parceled out to slaves in forty acre allotments.

These actions by Southern states angered congress. Led by the "Radical Republicans", congress passed sweeping legislation during the Reconstruction years. Congressmen Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens led the fight and first passed an act to establish the Freedmen's Bureau. Its purpose was to provide education and training for Blacks in their transition from slavery to freedom. Despite the best efforts of President Andrew Johnson to stop all legislation assisting Blacks, several significant bills were passed. With martial law in force in the South, congress could do virtually anything it wanted to. The rebellious states could not vote on the measures before congress, and there were enough votes to override President Johnson's vetoes.

The year following the Civil War, congress passed the Civil Rights act of 1866. It was subsequently vetoed by Andrew Johnson. Congress, however, overrode his veto and immediately passed the 14th Amendment due in part to Johnson's resistance. The purpose of both measures involved the rights of persons born or naturalized in the United States, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." With exception to Tennessee, all Southern states refused to ratify the amendment.

Congress than passed the Reconstruction Act, which prohibited these states from participating in Congress until they passed the measure and revised their own state constitutions. Passage of this amendment and the Reconstruction Act met with violent opposition. Despite the presence of the military, Whites went on a rampage killing, beating, burning, and destroying any Blacks they could find. Blacks were lynched by the hundreds. In 1870, another Civil Rights Act was passed, and was immediately followed by the 15th Amendment - "the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color or previous conditions of servitude."

Clearly the discord between Johnson and the Radical Republicans made Johnson an ineffective President and strengthened the power of Congress. In 18668 Congress impeached Johnson for violating a law called the Tenure of Office Act which forbade the President from firing a member of the Cabinet. Johnson was not convicted but clearly he was a lame duck President.


Back To Regents Notes

Back To RA Notes

 

 
Sites for Teachers

American History Topics   |   American History Lessons   |   Economics, Government & More
Education Software - Educational Games - Music Quiz - Arts and Crafts for Kids
© 2001-